'Take it easy' and 'retire' from publicity, ex-hostage Terry Waite tells Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

170322 Nazanin Zaghari_Ratcliffe and family, Twitter/Tulip Siddiq/pool
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family will have to adjust to a new normal, an expert has said. Credit: Twitter/Tulip Siddiq/pool

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Elisa Menendez

As Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe finally reunites with her family in the UK after a six-year fight to get home, a former hostage revealed he has been supporting her as she attempts to readjust to her new life out of captivity.

The families of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow British-Iranian detainee, Anousheh Ashoori, shed tears of joy as they touched down on UK soil on Wednesday night after years of a "long and cruel separation".

While it was a moment of relief and joy, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, acknowledged that "homecoming is a journey not an arrival" and pre-empted the difficult "process" and "bumps" the family will likely face as his wife settles back into some form of normality.

Alejandra Sarmiento, a psychotherapist specialising in trauma, told ITV News that there will be "no normality possibly for a while" for the mother, and "certainly not a normality that she would recognise from what life was like" before she was detained in 2016.

"The world is just not the same place that it was six years ago," added Ms Sarmiento.

"Her new normal is going to be the new normal that she creates - and that will take time."

Ms Sarmiento, who is based at mental health centre The Soke in London, said connecting with others who have been in similar situations who will understand her experience "in a very visceral way" would likely help her recovery.

“They will be able to share the experience in a way that perhaps others - however well meaning and however they want to be supportive - perhaps cannot be. It is a very felt experience," she added.

Former hostage Terry Waite, who was held captive in Lebanon for 1,763 days, said he has been in touch with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe via email and supporting her over the past year.

Mr Waite told ITV News how the mother had emailed him just four days ago saying she could not face another year in detention.

Former hostage Terry Waite tells ITV News how he told Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe that her ordeal is "going to come to an end" just four days before she was freed

"She was feeling rather low. Iranian New Year was coming up and it would be another year without her family," he said.

"My heart went out to her. And I simply said at that time, Nazanin, really believe that this ordeal is going to finish. It's going to come to an end.

"I'd no idea when it would come to an end. However, four days later, she was at the airport."

Mr Waite spent almost five years in captivity - with much of it spent in solitary confinement being tortured - after being taken hostage in Lebanon in 1987. He had been working with the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy in a bid to negotiate the release of detained Britons, but was captured and held himself.

When he was finally freed in 1991, Mr Waite described the difficulty of coming home to worldwide publicity.

"I had never experienced anything like it. When you've come from solitary confinement and you're suddenly thrown into all that pressure and publicity, it's hard to keep your balance," he said.

"My advice to Nazanin is take it easy... What you've been through is still with you"

He highlighted how Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has too returned home to "enormous publicity" and advised her to take her transition slowly.

"My advice to her, as I've already shared with her is, take it easy," said Mr Waite. "Make your statements, meet people initially, and then retire.

"Because what you've been through is still with you, the experience is still there, you still need to process it and it takes time to process an experience of deprivation and suffering," he added.

Ms Sarmiento echoed Mr Waite's advice and suggested the mother take things "very, very slowly" and to treat herself with "a lot of compassion, patience and kindness" to try and "understand what’s going on".

She suggested she would encourage the family to develop "new gentle routines".

She said most research suggests that with trauma, especially with hostage situations, there will be three reactions - cognitive, emotional and physical. The physical could range from struggling to sleep, headaches and feeling overwhelmed easily.

“The emotional aspect of course, is readjusting to a world where even just the sensory overload will have an impact.

"There is an imprint that’s left after an ordeal like that and to readjust, and she needs to obviously become a mother again, become a wife again, in the same way that - and parallel to the process - her husband needs to readjust to having his wife and the mother of their child at home. Their daughter needs to readjust to having mum at home all the time."

Once the ordeal is over, former hostages can be left feeling "numb", Ms Sarmiento added.

"Because a lot of the stress and the pressure has been on freeing her, and in a way that gives a very particular focus, sometimes what can happen when a hostage is liberated, is that the confusion of thinking ‘well now what’ - it’s a numbness that can take over.

"There’s a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can take over which then, because it can be so unexpected, it makes you feel very guilty."

She continued that hostages can experience a "hangover of the Stockholm Syndrome, whereby you miss - of course you don’t miss the sadness, the isolation, and the pressures and how awful the captivity was - but you do form bonds to survive in the most extreme of circumstances.

"So therefore, it would be the pressure and the guilt of thinking am I even allowed to miss someone who may have given her an extra piece of food, or looked after her in an extra caring way that was perceived as such at the time.

"So Stockholm Syndrome is a real reality and how that can impact somebody when they’re freed afterwards."